In 1819-20 Washington Irving published his short story "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow" in a collection he called The Sketch Book of Geoffrey Crayon. The church figures prominently in this best known and loved of all American ghost stories. The songmaster Ichabod Crane directed rhe choir in the gallery, the Headless Horseman was the leader of the graveyard's ghosts, and, of course, the churchyard was the place of their terrifying
In the early nineteenth century the United States, a young nation, lacked a tradition of folklore and legend. Irving's tale of the superstitious Dutch folk of Tarrytown in the 1790s, who worshipped at the church and whispered among themselves of sightings of the Headless Horseman in Sleepy Hollow, has ever since captivated the national consciousness. Every child knows the story, and there is scarcely an adult who has forgotten it.
Inspired by the Old Dutch Church and its bewitching environs, As America's first writer to achieve a European following, Irving became known as the Founding Father of American Literature. Today people from all over the nation and the world visit the site where Ichabod Crane met his fate. Without the church. "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow" is inconceivable, and American folk literature is much the poorer.
Irving, who was born in New York City, began his lifelong association with Tarrytown when he was 15. He spent part of a summer paddling on the Pocantico River and wandering among the old headstones. He absorbed folktales of the superstitious Dutch. Years later, while living in Europe, he wrote his haunting tale. When he eventually returned to the United States, Irving purchased a cottage in Tarrytown that he remade into his beloved home, Sunnyside. He spent the his later years there. A simple marble headstone marks his grave in Sleepy Hollow Cemetery, just up the slope from the burying ground. Fittingly, his grave overlooks the church he made world-famous. —With thanks to Rich Hessney for contributing to this article